Kara Winger Grateful For All That Her Parents Do Heading Into Tokyo 2020

by Kara Winger

Kara Winger competing in the women's javelin throw final at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Track & Field on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon.


Mom and Dad,
Thank you. I’m already crying tears of gratitude in this first sentence. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be yours.
Mom, thank you for this heart. I’ve watched you love other people so much for my entire life. You’ve given so much of yourself to others, and yet the light inside you never dims. You gave so much of yourself to me. Watching your competitive nature come out from the bleachers at all of those tournaments and from the front seat of the minivan as we recapped each game fueled my own spirit. And yet, those conversations always turned to grace for others, grace for myself, and opportunities to get better and help others do the same. I seek to make my heart like yours. Thank you. 
Dad, thank you for these capable, strong hands. Hands willing to reach out and help when necessary, but with the discipline to stay back when not needed. I’ve watched you carry blacksmith tools and puppies, wield fishing rods and heavy machinery, and still have the gentleness to squeeze a shoulder with comfort, and the silliness to slam a 20-point cribbage hand down on the table to skunk me once again. I see you in my slightly crooked, long fingers, and ability to adapt and overcome. Thank you. 
Mom, thank you for this head. We may both be night owls AND regretful early birds, but we get stuff done most days! Navigating the logistics of life in a way that allows you to prioritize the important things – quality time with loved ones – is what I’ve always aspired to do. Thank you for your smarts: You never shy from challenging others’ ways of thinking, and while it drives me crazy when you do that to me, I appreciate it later, of course. You make me pause, consider and then dive in with tenacity. Thank you.
Dad, thank you for these very long arms! They’re so useful in the javelin throw, and they’re easy to wrap around people that I love, including you. One of my favorite recent developments is noticing that my go-to celebration move (elbows bent, hands up on either side of my head) is actually your signature. I’ve watched you tell a joke, celebrate a great hand of bridge, or dismiss a bad one with this gesture for years, and apparently, I assimilated it. If I can keep borrowing it for a few more seasons, I’ll do you proud! Thank you. 
Thank you both for these legs. I know that genetics are part of my knee problems, and all the real estate in these legs means injuries are going to happen more often anyway, but you’re both so tough, too, and I learned that from you. Mom, I’ve listened to your knees for more years than I realized, so I didn’t think it was weird when mine started talking to me, because you never complained. Dad, your healing powers are pretty incredible. An ankle sprain, avulsion fracture and a heroic boat dock fall all in the last few years could mean that you hobble more, but I see no limp. Thank you both for this toughness.

Dad, thank you for this gut. The metaphorical one! I’ve watched for so many years as you weigh options, consider everything, are intentional, and then when it’s time to make a move, make it with certainty and conviction. Your role as a great teammate in any situation is so obvious to me after years of getting pulled from project to project, then back into hours of work you love after retirement. My contract-reviewer, north star and empowerer, I’m so proud of you, and proud to be your protégé in some ways. I’m sorry, still, that I’m not an engineer, but you’re welcome for marrying one! You always reassure me when I feel that something is not quite right and have taught me how to listen to my own instincts, inherited from you. Thank you.

Thank you both for your time. My career has been long, but only half as long still as your wonderful marriage. When I was at your house before U.S. Olympic Team Trials this year, I couldn’t stop staring at that picture that’s framed in the kitchen of our family at the 2008 Olympic Trials, taken right after I made the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 team. Who knew that that first moment of elation would be followed by so many more, together? Gazing at our overjoyed faces, I couldn’t help but notice the extra lines around all our eyes and smiles, the different shades of our hair, the transformation that 13 years of victories and losses in sport and in life caused in all of us.

Experiencing our uninhibited joy in that photo, I couldn’t help but relive the moment that I collapsed into Mom’s arms when I finally got home last summer after tearing my ACL for the second time, feeling so broken but so supported as I sobbed. Seeing our younger selves captured in time, I remembered Dad telling me after a loss right before college (17 years ago), “Kara, it’s only going to get harder from here.” How right you were, but how incredible to have experienced it all together. 

Athlete life can feel so selfish, but your willingness and ability to see the world alongside me has been one of the greatest gifts of the entire journey. There are so many moments that are unforgettable, but one of my favorites was stepping onto the track in the Olympic Games London 2012 stadium and immediately seeing you in the stands. I’d been a wreck for days, desperately preparing to compete on my first torn ACL. Then, in a 60,000-seat, filled-to-capacity stadium, somehow the two people I needed to see to finally get my heart out of my throat were right there.

Equally memorable, though, are our Monaco meal, seeing the Louvre for the first time together, making you dinner in my German apartment, Rio beach walks, our canal tour in 2012, Wangfujing Street and the silk market, and so many more, and the simpler times fill my heart up just as much as the adventures. I will always take an opportunity to go to the gym with you, Dad, or swim together, Mom, whether with dolphins or in the pool you used to lifeguard at.

I’m sorry you can’t be in Tokyo, but thank you for trying, as always. It would have been amazing to have you at four out of four of my Olympic Games, and I know that was your plan. Since it’s a new thing for you to not be there, maybe I’ll do a new thing and be the best I’ve ever been! And don’t worry, I always hear your cheers loudest in my heart. 

Love you so much. Thank you.